It was a cold August winters day. But that didn't stop a small group of us from missing out on delicious food and fabulous company. This months cuisine was Filipino. Hugs were exchanged and catch ups began before entree was served - home made spring rolls. I could not stop eating them. I tried to leave room for the main course, which was a decadent coconut based pumpkin curry along side some rice noodles with veggies. A few of us commented that this was one of the tastiest meals yet. We love our chef, who also joined us for lunch, and we shared stories and advice on serious topics like working “real jobs”, and how it can be hard to make new friends once you leave the industry. We also celebrated one of our attendees achievements. Congratulations on your graduation K. You rock! - Author: Lunch Attendee
This was my first lunch attended and I had been stalling for months. But when I arrived, I was welcomed by all and there was a strong sense of unity and comradery. The American cuisine was un- American due to the fact that is was tasty and healthy. There was gluten free options for me which I really appreciated. The chef provided for all. At the end of the lunch we gathered to state positive affirmations about one another and a tear or two was shed. This was a longer lunch than usual with women staying up until 4.30pm. Looking forward to the next lunch! - Author: Lunch attendee
Today there were seven of us bonding over a delicious Ukraine banquet of borsch, pierogi, homemade bread, roast vegetables and dumplings. It was lovely seeing familiar faces and getting to know each other on a much deeper level, while also welcoming a new friend into the fold. It was another very relaxed afternoon with great food and wonderful company. - Lunch Attendee
Once again the food served was delicious! This time we had fresh and fragrant Vietnamese rice paper rolls and salad, followed by a desert topped with an amazing coconut cream sauce. The mood around the table was great, with conversation flowing easily. Discussion included sharing current information from different aspects of the industry, and of most value was news shared from a few around the table about their personal breakthroughs in their pursuits to transition out of the industry. Altogether a lovely afternoon with "real" people who get it. -A.
I met some really lovely people. The lunch was great, absolutely delicious food. It's nice to meet women inside and out of the industry in a social and supportive setting. (posted by a lunch attendee)
Community Lunch - March 2018
Greetings are exchanged as the arrivals trickle in and put on their name tags. There are mostly familiar faces, with some newcomers who are welcomed warmly by all. We help ourselves to some spearmint, lemon and rose water, and sit around a large table stocked with a wide array of delectable dipping sauces, pita bread, vegetable fritters and fresh greens. The ladies dig in enthusiastically among light-hearted chit chat about how our week has gone and what's the latest film we've seen.
Soon the conversation turns to more serious matters, this is a safe space where anything can be discussed with an absolute lack of judgement. There is curiosity about the differences in each others work, these are women who have previously or currently worked in all kinds of sex work, and though outsiders may be quick to pigeonhole them all into the same box, we know how much variety there is in the different industries, and we are eager to learn more about each other and how we work. A wide range of topics are discussed, from how secure we feel in our working environment, with anecdotes of some scary situations where bouncers have needed to be involved, to how pleasant the work environment can be depending on our coworkers and management.
These are women who can often be dismissed by others as lacking in intelligence and choosing "easy options" in life, but anyone hearing them delve into the topic of equality and the future of sex work in a world where the patriarchy is being questioned more and more intensely would soon revise that opinion. They are intelligent and hard working, they are pillars of support for their children and other family and friends, and this is reflected in the views they express.
The main course is served, delicious tortilla wraps with feta cheese and crunchy vegetables loved by all. The chef, always keen for feedback and suggestions, mindfully crafts each meal, taking care to ensure that everyone's dietary needs are respected. One of us suggests we should try to meet to do some fun activity together like bush-walking. The group reacts eagerly, part of the support offered by Project Respect is quite simply the friendships that can emerge from being in such relatable situations. Everybody needs to be able to share and discuss things with others, but our situation is unique and difficult for people outside the industry to fully comprehend. The topic of relationships is a great example, we can ask each other for advice, speculating whether an issue stems from the nature of our work and how it can change our perception of what is 'normal', having a friendly sounding board for such doubts is essential to one's mental well-being.
Dessert comes in the form of natural dried apricots and juicy fresh figs. We remark once again how gorgeous the food has been and what an enjoyable experience it is to spend an afternoon with a group of such strong, positively influential women. A suggestion box appears where some note down ways in which we can further be helped, while another simply writes "I am happy to be here" summing up our collective feeling in one sentence that says it all.
By a community lunch participant
The Women's Advisory Group (WAG) is a group of peers with lived experience in the sex industry and we run Project Respects community lunch. It is a space where women from all areas of the sex industry can come together to have their voices heard, support one another and have some fun! In the past the women used to cook but now we have a wonderful chef that will cook different cuisines each month that are all vegetarian. So there are no expectations and everyone is welcome to come along, relax and enjoy the afternoon!!
A woman that attended the Community Lunch wrote:
"After a long two years Project Respect community lunches are back!! I attended the new and improved lunch that is now completely peer based including the welcoming host and exceptional chef, yes that’s right I said ‘chef’!!! The first lunch was an amazing success as many women arrived, some a little nervous, not knowing exactly what to expect but immediately the conversations started and the atmosphere filled with laughter, a sense of comradery and the smell of exquisite, fresh Mexican food. I sincerely enjoyed my day because it is a space where I can truly be myself with peers I can relate to, learn from and just share our different journeys and stories without any fear of stigma or judgement. I even enjoyed the ‘ice breaker’ game we played to get to know each other more, which is an activity I normally get quite anxious about but the support and compassion in the room allowed everyone to freely participate in their own way. So not only did we have delicious food and kick ass company but I also had the opportunity to meet old and make new friends."
The reality of slavery today – Your food, your clothes, your technology, and sometimes your sexual services.
Slavery has been a part of human history ever since the dawn of civilisation. It dates back 10,000 years to Mesopotamia. Throughout the history of slavery, female slaves have been called upon for sexual services. This sexual exploitation of women is nothing new. In ancient Sparta and Athens, there was widespread dependence on slave labour. Similarly the practice of slavery carried onto Rome, and slaves were prevalent in the Middle Ages. Then came the Transatlantic Slave Trade, inaugurated by the Portuguese, followed by the Spanish. Ultimately this led to the Abolitionist movement that still carries on today. In the early 1900s, the Danish, British, and America made the slave trade illegal. However slave trading and slavery itself continued profusely. Most contemporary economically developed societies have been built on the profits of slave labour.
Today we observe the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It has been 208 years since the Transatlantic Slave Trade was abolished. However slavery remains part of modern society.
It is believed that there are more slaves today then in any other time in human history. The estimate sits generally between 20 to 30 million. Unlike in the past, slavery is no longer in the open, it is illicit and underground, therefore more difficult to monitor and address. This means that estimates of the numbers of slaves are never completely accurate, and in fact figures could be far higher or potentially lower. What does underpin modern slavery is the economic structures of free market, free trade, economic deregulation, flow of information and goods, in a growing borderless world. These attributes reflect modern neoliberal economic ideology, which sees the devaluation of social welfare, health care and equal education: the value of the pursuit of high profit with the lowest costs. Neoliberalism abandons ethics: it is a kind of attitude that encourages the commodification of anything with potential profit, regardless of underlying circumstances, which may be inherently against our basic rights.
Shockingly, this sort of attitude is pervasive now more than ever. Recently, in response to the landmark decisions of Amnesty International to endorse the complete decriminalization of sex work, the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, tweeted “All want to end poverty, but in the meantime why deny poor women the option of voluntary sex work?” This statement reinforces assumptions that all sex workers are poor, all sex workers do it for a quick buck, poverty and sex work are synonymous, and that poor and voluntary can coexist. Importantly this message purports that we should seek the most profitable economic avenue in any situation, without acknowledging the structural problems that create these situations. Where are the questions relating to why, since the emergence of slavery 10,000 years ago, have women been consistently used for forced sexual labour? And why now, are we pursuing policies of abandonment of healthcare and social welfare, which effect women disproportionately, and increase their vulnerability to be trafficked into sexual slavery? Given that we have seen the effects it has on women. Then again, many know that war often leads to violence against women, political turmoil, economic disengagement, and the overall halt of development, however we continue to go to war regardless.
So what are we doing wrong in our efforts to combat slavery? Everyday citizens in privileged positions are not taking enough time to manage their slavery product consumption. Awareness is not widespread enough. Public pressure is not big enough. We have an incredible power collectively as consumers to alter the profits of transnational corporations. If we refuse to consume products that are made by forced labour, or if we pursue the education of purchasers of sex so they may be more ethical in their “consumption”, we raise the profile of the people who are being exploited. If we go for a beach holiday in Thailand, we put pressure on our fellow tourists to understand their impact, their participation in negative tourism (such as sex tourism). But importantly, we promote the conversation, never allow people to forget about the continued slavery in the world, and pursue ideals of sustainable and equitable development.
It is in Australia, and it’s throughout the whole world. Don’t forget. Start the conversation.
The wind is howling through the trees,
I hear a dog barking from a distance,
The whistle of a stream train,
I’m at a station, but which station?
There are no signs no lights.
I am alone, cold and in the dark
A train appears pulling in the dark
Slowly, smoke and stream covering the platform.
As the old train leaves there are people everywhere, women, children and men of all ages.
All bustling around going about their business,
People yelling to buy their produce, fruit & veg, old wares and second hand clothes.
I move towards a stall, though my feet don’t move,
I’m stuck, people walk through me like I’m not even there.
I am here, I yell, no one hears
The train I thought, I hear the same dog bark in the distance
But somehow it sounds closer this time,
The whistle, of the train it’s loud and seems to go on forever.
As it pulls in, I’m left alone again.
Cold, wet and in the dark.
I turn and a young child approaches me
And whispers in my ear
It’s your choice to stay alone.
I am 28 years old and have lived with an addiction for more than half my life. I have had a long way of recovery and still wouldn’t call myself “fully recovered”. I believe that it needs to be acknowledged, that recovery (what ever it may be from – substance abuse, behaviour etc.) is a long and very bumpy journey. I have learnt that (re) lapses are a normal and part of recovery, so I don’t beat my self up anymore if it happens. I have learned to appreciate and focus on what I have accomplished and how far I have come. I have also realised, that my addiction is nothing that I need to be ashamed of. I used to hate, ignore and hide this part of myself for many years and wouldn’t tell anyone. I only now realised I didn’t take myself seriously and accept myself for who I was.
Recovered (or not) the addiction-fragment of myself will always be part of who I am. However, I was also able to see things differently because of it and I believe it gave me the ability to be insightful and understanding. I might even be able to now give to or help someone going through the same because of these experiences lived. I also acknowledge, that asking for help is okay and in fact a very big first step (which often is not easy, asking for help is never easy), but help is out there. I further realised that I was very lucky to have support during this long journey and this is something I will never take for granted. It was also great being able to know people going through the same experiences as I do, because no one really understands until they have been there too. However it is still on me to do it (recovery) and that I am the only one responsible for it. The most important lesson I have learnt is definitely to never give up and believe that recovery is possible (even in my case).
Something short about the sex industry
What irritates me the most when talking about the sex industry or sex workers is the stigma towards this industry and these individuals. No one ever talks, when talking about sex workers, about just women (considering that the majority of sex workers are women). No one ever talks about these women who have so many strengths, skills and experiences, women who may be studying, women who may be mothers and are caring for their children and women who are simply working to earn money (just not in a mainstream industry) like everyone else. I wonder, when this will ever change and when sex workers will bee seen as nothing different but individuals.
I am general a very shy person and never had much self esteem at all. Which I believe are the two main reasons I never had many friends, but I have had a few very good and special ones.
I moved to Australia about two years ago and realised that it is hard to find friends if you are new somewhere and especially don’t really have anywhere to “belong” – I no longer went to university and initially didn’t have a job, both places where one could meet other people. It was/is also hard to meet new people and make new friends in a world where everyone is busy all the time (including myself) and I often felt (and still feel) isolated despite having a partner who is, if I am honest to myself, my only real good friend here; I often miss “my girls”. I hardly ever talk about feeling “lonely” but I believe that through conversations with others at and outside of Project Respect that others feel like I do, (I know that this seems stupid), but to some extent this makes me feel a bit less lonely.